Monday, June 27, 2022

Becoming a theatre critic

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Jaafar Jaafar
Jaafar Jaafar is a graduate of Mass Communication from Bayero University, Kano. He was a reporter at Daily Trust, an assistant editor at Premium Times and now the editor-in-chief of Daily Nigerian.
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A scene from the Line

At a time when theatre is presumably not the first choice for most Nigerians, and creative writing has become a no-profit venture, I had the rare privilege of being part of one of the most well organized events in Nigeria.

As a young poet, along with twenty other participants (gifted in various forms of creative writing) who according to the organizers were screened out of about four hundred applicants, we were introduced to the beauty and aesthetic of theatre and trained on how to become critics.

The organizers of the event – British Council Nigeria, in collaboration with the Guardian Newspaper and the International Association of Theatre Critics (IATC) for five days took us on a journey of creative rediscovery and appreciation for theatre in a Young Critic Program which was a salient part the festival, aimed at raising a new generation of theatre critics in Nigeria.

The facilitators of the event which were principal members of the IATC, including the president; Margareta Sörenson from Sweden, the Adjunct Secretary General; Mr. Octavian Saiu (Romania), Director of conferences; Mr. Ivan Medenica (Serbia) President, IATC, Nigeria Section; Mr Emmanuel Samu Dandaura and Ms Bernice Chan Kwok Wai – instructed us from both personal and professional angles how to appreciate and critic theatre. The training which took both a theoretical and practical approach, helped us to understand that theatre not only exist in Nigeria but is as powerful as any other form of art and entertainment. The classes which held at the museum of the freedom park was both entertaining and revealing.

Through this program I had the grace to meet some big names in literature and entertainment, the likes of the 2016 Thalia laureate, Professor Femi Oshofisan (whose adaptation of The Chattering and the Song I had the privilege to be part of in secondary school) who graced us with his presence offering his piece of motivation.

Many people might not see why this is such a big deal, why would I or any of the other nineteen celebrate being a critic? The answer to that lies at the heart of theatre criticism. As a profession which has existed for ages, and has been the measurement for excellence for theatre which itself is an almost elitist and classy art form, we would provide for those to whom theatre means much the much needed measurement of a good performance worth seeing.

The British Council Lagos Theatre Festival 2017 which was tagged ‘Rhythm of the City’ lasted for 6 Days, featuring over 70 Performances across 16 Venues around Lagos, keeping the city spell bound, giving theatre performers ranging from, dance, music, drama and experimental performances, the rare opportunity to show their best works and the height of their creativity.

I cannot but applaud the British Council for this intervention. Writing from the angle of a participant of the Young Critics Programme which was one of the workshops that made up the British Council Lagos Theatre Festival 2017, I have kept a few details bothering on the generous hospitality lavished on us, but I must state categorically that the selection of participants (spanning across Nigeria) of which I feel more than blessed to be a part of, brought together some of the most intelligent Nigerian youth I will ever meet. This makes believe that writers are intellectuals of an unmatched parallel.

Also I was surprised at the state of the national theatre, where the Opening Symposium of the Lagos Theatre Festival 2017 was held – and which I have not visited since my childhood. Against the narrative that the theatre is run down and in bad shape, maybe apart from the state of the convenience the National Theatre Iganmu is pretty much good enough to hold any theatre event.

Olamide was one of the beneficiaries of the 4 – day Young Critics Programme – a project to develop critical journalistic engagement with the fast developing theatre sector in Lagos and aimed to train, mentor and promote 20 young writers between the ages of 18 and 35 to build their theatre criticism skills. This was designed to aid in professionalising the arts scene, up skilling young people, building new audiences for theatre, increasing media engagement with the Lagos Theatre Festival (LTF) and the wider theatre sector and build the capacity of the theatre makers in the festival – organised by the British Council, in collaboration with the International Association of Theatre Critics (IATC), and the Guardian Newspaper, as part of the British Council Lagos Theatre Festival 2017 which held from 28th February to 5th March 2017.

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